Palestinians and Israelis, the recent upsurge in violence has been
variously described as the children’s, lone-wolf, Jerusalem and
smartphone intifadas. Each describes a distinguishing feature of this
round of clashes.
steady erosion of Fatah and Hamas’ authority during the post-Oslo
years, as the Palestinian factions proved incapable of protecting
their people from the structural violence of the occupation, has
driven Palestine’s politically orphaned children to the streets,
armed with stones.
growing hopelessness and sense of abandonment have led a few
so-called “lone wolves” to vent their fury on Israelis with
improvised weapons such as knives, screwdrivers and cars. These
attacks have attracted the most publicity, becoming the equivalent of
the second Intifada’s suicide bomber. But they serve chiefly as a
barometer of Palestinian despair.
is the centre of events, with the Palestinians’ only unifying
symbol, al-Aqsa mosque, at its heart. For Palestinians, the
incremental takeover of the compound – and the West’s
indifference – is like watching the mass dispossession of 1948 play
out again in slow motion.
addition, Jerusalem is the main fault line. Israel’s illegal
annexation of the city has left Palestinians there in an extreme form
of isolation – indefinitely stateless and supremely vulnerable.
finally, the smartphone camera has allowed Palestinians to document
their suffering and witness unmediated their compatriots’ personal
acts of resistance and self-sacrifice.
knife attacks may appal outsiders, but for many Palestinians they are
the moment when an individual briefly reclaims his or her agency and
fights back on behalf of a collectively subjugated and humiliated
need for so many different labels for these events reveals another
important facet of the current Palestinian struggle: its disorganised
has almost completed the division and enclosure of Palestinians into
disconnected enclaves. As they hear the sound of the prison doors
closing, Palestinian youths are lashing out at the guards closest to
the divisions between Palestinian populations have become so
entrenched geographically, and their leaders politically, it is hard
for Palestinians to find any unifying vision or organising principle.
Do they fight first against their occupiers or their spent
the lack of planning and discipline has exposed Israel’s own
has little but stopgap measures to defend against the protests. Its
intelligence agencies cannot predict the lone wolf, its guns cannot
deter the knife, its military might cannot subdue the craving for
justice and dignity.
in the face of all this, there are signs of a parallel breakdown of
order and leadership on the Israeli side.
of Jews patrol Jerusalem and Israeli cities, calling out “Death to
the Arabs!” A jittery soldier causes pandemonium by firing his
rifle in a train carriage after a bogus terror alert. An innocent
Eritrean asylum seeker is shot by a security guard during an attack
because he looks “Arab”, then beaten to a pulp by a lynch mob
that includes soldiers.
politicians and police commanders stoke the fear. They call for
citizens to take the law into their own hands. Palestinian workers
are banned from Jewish towns. Israeli supermarkets remove knives from
shelves, while 8,000 Israelis queue up for guns in the first 24 hours
after permit rules are eased.
of this reflects a hysteria, a heightened sense of victimhood among
Israelis, fuelled by the knife attack videos. But the mood dates to
before the current upheavals.
is also a sign of the gradual leaching of the settler’s lawlessness
into the mainstream. A popular slogan from the past weeks is: “The
army’s hands are tied.” Israeli civilians presumably believe they
must take up arms instead.
six uninterrupted years of the extreme right in power, Israelis don’t
blame their government’s policy of relentless force for the
backlash. They demand yet more force against the Palestinians.
show Avigdor Lieberman, the former Moldovan bouncer who became the
hard man of the Israeli right, is most favoured to lead the nation
out of the crisis.
are being applied most savagely in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians
are being locked even more tightly into neighbourhood ghettoes.
Israel’s “eternal, unified capital” is being carved up by
roadblocks. Palestinian residents are made to endure daily searches
and insults that will sow the seeds of yet more fury and resistance.
Israel tries to slam shut the door of one prison cell in Jerusalem,
the inmates threaten to break open the door of another, in Gaza.
Israel’s leadership has watched uneasily the repeated breaches of
Gaza’s fence over the past days by youths enraged by their own
misery and what they see happening in the other prison wings.
current unrest may recede, but more waves of protest of ever greater
intensity are surely not far behind.
Farah, a Palestinian leader in Israel, has warned of it heading
slowly from a national conflict into a civil war, one defined by the
kind of debased one-state solution Israel is imposing.
chaotic violence of the past weeks looks like a warning from the
future – a future Israel is hurtling towards.
the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books
are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan
to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing
Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books).
His website iswww.jonathan-cook.net.